Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Native Moments" (1860)
Author:
Klawitter, George
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

"Native Moments" first appeared as number 8 in the cluster "Enfans d'Adam." In the final edition it assumes the twelfth position in the cluster. An interesting change in line 7 appears for the first time in 1881: the words "I take for my love some prostitute" have been dropped. In their context, 1860–1871, there is strong reason to believe the prostitute is male. M. Jimmie Killingsworth reads the original line as Whitman's attempt to shock his reading public. By 1876, however, Whitman had dropped personal references to prostitutes in several other poems, including "From Pent-up Aching Rivers."

Killingsworth classifies the poem as one of three "delirium" poems in "Children of Adam," the other two being "From Pent-up Aching Rivers" and "One Hour to Madness and Joy." But unlike the death metaphor for merge in the "Calamus" poems, the metaphor in "Native Moments" is madness. Thus, Killingsworth concludes, Whitman suggests that heterosexual fusion is incomplete and impossible. Harold Aspiz similarly reasons that the poem is masturbatory and thus represents Whitman's attempt to reach a transcendent mysticism through sexual release. For James Miller, the poem represents a dilemma for Whitman: torn between spontaneous Adamic joys and the harsh vulgarity of society, the narrator rejects convention and opts for natural law.

Bibliography

Aspiz, Harold. "Sexuality and the Language of Transcendence." Walt Whitman Quarterly Review 5.2 (1987): 1–7.

Killingsworth, M. Jimmie. Whitman's Poetry of the Body: Sexuality, Politics, and the Text. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1989.

Miller, James E., Jr. A Critical Guide to "Leaves of Grass." Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1957.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: A Textual Variorum of the Printed Poems. Ed. Sculley Bradley, Harold W. Blodgett, Arthur Golden, and William White. 3 vols. New York: New York UP, 1980.


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